Saturday, October 30, 2010

The library should get selling its books

The library should get selling its books

The Library is overcrowded and oversubscribed - wouldn't all this be better in the cloud?

Richard Martyn-Hemphill

Wednesday 27 October 2010, The Journal Issue 39

For the kind of money I paid for last year's 'required reading', I could almost have bailed out the banks. This year I returned to university with a whole new plan: to use the library resources instead. Bad idea, as it turns out. The Edinburgh University Library is a phenomenal literary resource, provided that 28,000 other students are not trying to use it as well. The popular books are invariably either checked out, or restricted to three-hour loans, and the specialist books are often only to be found in subject specific libraries dotted around the city.

So, personally, I decided to bite the bullet and pay up for another year's worth of shelf-fillers. But there's a definite sense that this isn't right. Students have a tough enough time paying rent and living expenses, and if they have to make austerity measures in their budget, it won't be the Glen's vodka that gets struck off the shopping list. If students no longer see the required reading as a valuable investment, their education will inevitably suffer.

Contemplating such a dystopian scenario, I had an epiphany. Why don't the library sell their books? There are four key points to this idea. First - students can use their book money from the average year to buy a university-backed e-reader (preferably at a substantially discounted price due to university and taxpayer subsidies). Second, given the likelihood that hard-copy books are going to steadily become devalued in the coming years, as ebooks continue to dramatically undercut the price of texts, the library should sell off as many of its books as possible while they can still make a tidy sum from them. Third, the University can use the revenue these sales would bring in to invest in boosting its e-journal and ebook reserves; and fourth, that all required reading could then be made available for viewing at the click of a buttom from MyEd. It would be free, you could download it from anywhere in the world, and you could even keep one of the 'reserve' titles for as long as you liked.

The benefits of online storage are manifold: you could cut costs by collaborating with other Scottish academic institutions - indeed, Edinburgh already has this in place for e-journals, why not ebooks as well? It would be green; think of the forests of trees to be saved when all your text is in the cloud. The days of lugging weighty tomes to and from George Square would be over. Students would likely achieve better grades, raising this respected seat of learning's standing still further - to the glee of the administration - and giving helping ensure its students have to labour under less of a debt burden. And best of all, you could even have your own copy of The Journal posted straight to you. Happy days.

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